Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went after big pharmaceutical companies on Wednesday, arguing that they hurt American consumers and are not practicing true capitalism.
In a confirmation hearing, Paul grilled Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Alex Azar on how big pharmaceutical companies manipulate the health care system to raise drug prices, challenging the nominee to affirm his commitment to keeping drug prices competitive and affordable.
“Big Pharma manipulates the system to keep prices high,” Paul said. “It is not capitalism, and it’s big government, and we’ve got to fix it.”
Paul, who argues that the free market is best suited to handle America’s health care needs, asked Azar how he would work to reimport drugs in order to keep prices fair. The senator has advocated for a full repeal of Obamacare, believing it traps consumers into “Big Pharma” prices.
“If you’re open to it, and not just say it’s unsafe, will say, ‘This is how I would do it, and this is how I would reimport drugs and make it safe,’ that’s an honest reform. If you can’t do that, I can’t support you,” Paul told Azar. “So I hope you will come back with an answer that says, ‘This is how I would make reimportation safe.’”
Paul urged Azar to convince the senators of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee that he wouldn’t be another agent of big pharmaceutical companies.
The senator pointed out that there is no generic alternative for insulin on the market, a medication listed on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. The absence of a generic alternative allows the manufacturer of the drug to charge any price for it, which Paul argues has been abused to the detriment of American health care consumers.
“You need to convince those of us who are skeptical that you’ll be part of fixing it and won’t be beholden to Big Pharma,” Paul said.